Although arthritis is usually spoken of as a single ailment, the term actually refers to about 100 different forms of the condition. Of those, two specific types can cause cardiac-like pain: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis, known also as “wear-and-tear” arthritis, is a joint disease that causes the top layer of cartilage — the tissue covering the bone — to break down and wear away.
When this occurs in the neck, chest, and shoulders, it causes calcium deposits, or “bone spurs” to form. The nerves in these parts of the body are situated next to the ones that carry pain messages from the chest, so pain that emanates from these areas can feel exactly like it’s coming from the heart.
An X-ray can confirm the diagnosis.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disorder that causes inflammation in the small joints of the body, usually the hands and the feet. However, RA can also cause the lining around the heart to become inflamed, resulting in pain and shortness of breath that mimics angina.
Both these types of arthritis affect women more often than men. In fact, osteoarthritis of the neck commonly causes chest pain in older women.
People with RA are at heightened risk for developing coronary heart disease, so their doctor should monitor them closely.
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